Truth in Advertising by John Kenney is about Finn Dolan, a copywriter for a big New York City ad agency. He fell into his job and stayed there for eight years. He’s obviously in love with a younger woman at the firm. His respect for his industry is just about nill, right at the time when he’s expected to put together a Superbowl ad for a diaper client in just a few weeks while his father is dying in a Mass. hospital.

The book starts out as a send up of advertising:

“Give me your tired, your poor, your great teeming masses of middle-managers who are unable to move the process forward or make a decision! These Carlos and Maries and Trents and Tracys and Carls! Give me your resentful and angry, your worried and deeply frightened, your petrified of the next round of layoffs and of those insufferable human resources women with their easy detachment and heartless smiles. You’re eligible for Cobra and the family plan is just $1800 a month. The afterlife for HR people is a Clockwork Orange-like reel of everyone they’ve ever fired, playing over and over again.”

FUN! Let’s see how stupid this industry is! Kenny has a way with words, but after a few chapters, this “lol look at these idiots” wordplay grew stale. I knew that if the whole book went that way, I’d have a problem finishing it.

Suddenly, though, when Finn gets to the point of sharing that he was almost married but called it off, Truth in Advertising takes a turn into a serious novel with comedic elements. He writes about a gravy boat. He and his fiancé said they weren’t going to do the whole every-party-for-everything marriage thing, yet – of course – that changes, including registering for things they will never use, like a gravy boat. You find out more about Finn’s relationships with women with a discussion about a gravy boat than you do in his thoughts on his actual fiancé, foreshadowing to the fact that there is a root cause for his issues.

That’s when the book becomes one about death, heartbreak and family that, at some points, rang so true that I had to put the book down.

The book could have been predictable – all knots could have been unwound at the conclusion, like a good Shakespeare comedy. But they don’t, and I’m glad. Life isn’t pretty like in an advertisement – this book shouldn’t be either.

It’s a good read. I’m glad I either picked this one up at Book Expo America, or a publicist thought to send me this galley (the book comes out on Jan. 22).

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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